What is a ‘Classic’ horse race?

In horse racing, ‘Classic’ is used in its sense of describing a major, long-standing sporting event and, in Britain, refers to any one of the five historic races contested annually by three-year-old colts and fillies, a.k.a. the ‘Classic generation’. Those races are the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas, both run on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket in late April or early May, the Derby and Oaks, both run over a mile and a half at Epsom in June, and the St. Leger, run over a mile and three-quarters at Doncaster in September. The 1,000 Guineas and Oaks are restricted to three-year-old fillies, while the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger are open to both sexes, although the first two are rarely contested by fillies nowadays.

Unsurprisingly, all five ‘Classic’ races hold the highest, Group One status and, as such, identify the best three-year-olds, of both sexes, in training over a range of distances. The St. Leger, inaugurated in 1776, is the oldest of the quintet, followed by the Oaks in 1779, Derby in 1780, 2,000 Guineas in 1809 and 1,000 Guineas in 1814. Collectively, the races became known as the ‘Classics’ in 1815 and have defined the British Flat racing season ever since. It is theoretically possible for a filly to win all five Classics and, in 1902, Sceptre went close to doing so; she won the 2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St. Leger and finished fourth, with a bruised foot, in the Derby.